Cornfield Meet

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2011 in (GeekDad) review

GeekDad reviewsI reviewed some awfully fun stuff this year for GeekDad – a dozen books and a couple TV shows, most of which are well worth checking out:

Gaming Fix: Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken

It’s A Craft Trap! The Star Wars Craft Book by Bonnie Burton

Fuzzy Reboot: John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation

Geek Fantasy Novel by E. Archer

Simon Pegg’s Nerd Do Well

The Transformers Vault: Treasures from Cybertron

The Snow Queen’s Shadow by Jim C. Hines

The Science Channel: Dark Matters

Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars: Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition

Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads by Kirk Demarais

Man in Black: Star Wars: The Complete Vader

Amazing Everything: The Art of Scott C.

Doctor Who: The sixth series DVD set

The Millennium Falcon Owner’s Workshop Manual

December 30, 2011 Posted by | Books, Fiction, geek, science fiction, Television, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

My GeekDad interviews of 2011

Two facts: One, contributing to Wired‘s GeekDad is, no question, one of the most fun things I get to do as a writer; and two, I’ve always loved the inspiration and energy rush that comes from talking with creative people about their imaginations, work and passion.

So when I get to do both of those things at the same time, well, it’s like sticking the equivalent of a plant nutrient spike into the nerdiest corner of my brain.

I wrote up four interviews for GeekDad in 2011:

From Monty Python to Mad to Manga: An Interview with Mark CrilleyDon’t forget, Brody’s Ghost, Volume 3  is set for a May release.

Please Don’t Stab John Scalzi in the EyeballsWe talked about Fuzzy Nation and geek parenting, and he shared a father-daughter anecdote which he later turned into a Penny Arcade comic strip.

Air Cars to X-Ray Spex – My friend Kirk Demarais has a blast pulling back the curtain on the real stuff in old comic book ads in his book Mail-Order Mysteries.

What’s Behind James Gough’s Cloak? – Great premise for a book, fantastic guy to talk to. You’re ever in the market for an extra kiloton of energy, spending five minutes with James will replenish your stores and then some.

December 29, 2011 Posted by | Books, Fiction, geek, Ohio, science fiction, writing | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kirk Demarais’ Mail-Order Mysteries: Two See-Through Thumbs Up

My friend Kirk Demarais’ new book is coming out this month, and if you grew up marveling and wondering at comic book ads promising magical voice-throwing powers or an army in a footlocker … all will be revealed!

Kirk Demarais Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads

Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! is a lot of fun (the exclamation point in the title practically guarantees it, right?), and as I mentioned in my GeekDad review, Kirk lets his love for all these bits of cheesy goodness shine through.

Kirk also took some time to answer email questions for a GeekDad interview, and demonstrates a couple of the novelties in this video on YouTube:

And when you have 15 minutes to spare, his short film Flip is another great tribute to this part of childhood:

Got more than 15 minutes? Go lose yourself at Secret Fun Spot for awhile. Then buy his book so he’ll keep digging up all these treasures to share.

October 1, 2011 Posted by | 1970s, 1980s, Books, eighties, geek, science fiction | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Next Round of Blue Milk’s On Me.

Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek - The First 30 Years…because this is just too darn cool: Topless Robot has named Collect All 21! to its list of The 10 Greatest Non-Fiction Star Wars Books and said some amazingly nice things about it, which just blows me away because a) the Topless Robot gang really knows their Star Wars, and b) there’s a serious butt-ton of non-fiction SW works for the reading.

I’ll even admit that there’s the fanboy voice in the corner of my head looking at that list with its vigilant geek-debating eye and saying, “What? I can’t believe they didn’t include Impressive Work X and The Massive Star Wars Volume of Y and…” But you know what? He can shut up, because I don’t want to give up my spot, so big time thanks, Topless Robot!!

For what it’s worth, though I certainly wish I had more, I only own two of the others books on the list: No. 10 and No. 7. And you’ll just have to go read the post to find out which they are. (Hint: One of them “reassured” the children of the 1970s that “Real star wars are very unlikely. But it is not entirely impossible for unfriendly space creatures to invade Earth.”)

Thanks – yet again – to Collect All 21! cover artist Kirk Demarais for delivering the Topless Robot news, which comes on the heels of this kind post about the book at The Malaysian Reader. (And that brings the number of countries where I know people have read the book to an even dozen. Which is still mind-boggling.)

February 9, 2011 Posted by | 1980s, Books, eighties, Family history, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, Weblogs, writing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Familiar ground: The drive home

Five thousand, four hundred forty-nine-point-nine miles later, I’m home, and sitting at my own desk again, looking out the window at trees and houses and a particular color of morning that’s practically part of my DNA.

Yesterday’s drive home began at 4:50 a.m., after packing up camp by the glow of my battery-powered lamp/flashlight and taking a shower. (I was pleased to remember from my first stop at this campground that to get the hot water running, you have to turn the dial in the opposite direction from what the labeling would seem to indicate. Two weeks ago, this was a lesson learned while I waited 10 minutes for the shower to warm up, when a simple shift of the dial was all that was needed for almost instant-hot water.)

When I pulled onto Interstate 44 eastbound, sunup was still a ways off, and this was the first “dark” highway driving I’d done since day one. It wouldn’t last long, but as I sipped my Circle K coffee and ate my morning breakfast bar, for a moment it felt like one of our straight-through overnight drives to or from Florida.

The sky slowly brightened as I passed St. Louis and crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois. I listened to Morning Edition for awhile, and then another This American Life podcast.

When I reached Indiana right around 8 a.m., the Time Gods of Traveling Westward took back the last hour they’d loaned me, and though I was sad to see it go, it at least meant that I’d be hitting Indianapolis at 10 a.m. rather than during the morning rush hour.

Two Star Wars Celebrations have earned Indianapolis a special place in my heart, so while seeing the downtown skyline this trip struck nostalgic chords both times through, I was thrown a bit by the sight of Lucas Oil Stadium, which replaced the RCA Dome and actually occupies the former spot of the hotel where Jim and I stayed to cover Celebration III. I get that the new building is a throwback fieldhouse-style architecture, but there’s something odd about the way it looks against the skyline: Because it’s a gigantic structure but isn’t built to look like a massive stadium, it seem out of proportion with the rest of the city, like someone took a one-quarter-scale model and placed it in a one-tenth-scale skyline. I’m sure I’d get used to it if I saw it regularly, but it was jarring this time around.

The remaining five hours home were filled with some radio listening, a phone conversation with my brother Nick, and reflections on this two-week odyssey and settling back into work and life at home. My mom met me at the rental car agency in Canton, where we unloaded Serenity – in all seriousness, this Versa was an excellent car for this trip, and I will miss her and hope she’s treated to an oil change and a good bath to remove 5,400-plus miles worth of bug goo from her front bumper and side mirrors – and not long after, I was back in my own driveway and Kelsey and Jenn were coming out the front door, and one of our cats escaped into the bushes, and things were just the way they should be.

There remain a lot of small moments and other things from the trip that I’ve been saving in note form, and I took more than 300 pictures, and all of these will take some complete narrative shape eventually, although this is my last dedicated vacation blog post for now.

Many sincere thanks yet again to the several new friends I met for the first time in real life, and in particular to the fantastic people who helped me along and shared their homes and company and friendship: Kirk Demarais, Jim Rafferty, Ramona Nash, George Krstic, Jenny Williams, and Jonathan Liu and their families are all just plain super-nice and generous people and the universe is a better place for their presence in it.

I’ve been inspired and refreshed and energized in many ways, and while I’m almost overwhelmed right now with things I need and want to accomplish, this trip was absolutely worth the time and effort and planning and budgeting in every way, and I’m so glad I did it.

My parents, Pam & Jeff Caldwell, get their own thank-you for all their support and for coming all the way to San Diego to cheer Kelsey on and share a few great days together in southern California. And my brother Adam never hesitates to keep an eye on the house and our pets while we’re gone, which, since he’s got a super-busy family and home of his own, is greatly appreciated.

And to my wife Jenn and daughter Kelsey, who supported me in this whole effort in every way and never stopped encouraging me even if you thought I was a little bit off my rocker; you also never failed to understand why I did it and how much it meant to me: You two are always my home, wherever we are.

And it’s good to be home.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | geek, Ohio, Travel, Weblogs, writing | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New friends, family ties and the edge of the desert.

After passing beneath a super-ominous and very cool storm front yesterday morning southwest of Eureka, Missouri – that cloud was so low and heavy-looking it felt like driving beneath one of the Independence Day invasion ships – the rest of the short 6-hour drive to Arkansas was easy and entertaining. It included a long stretch of winding two-lane through some very small towns in what was apparently once a river beach resort destination region, and I wish I had been able to stop and take some photos of a few incredible shots where the road actually undercuts these stone cliffs, so you’re driving with tons and tons of rock hanging overhead, with a river off to the opposite side. Unfortunately, I was being rudely tailgated because I refused to speed (I’ve grown up around enough small towns to know speed traps when I see them), so you’ll just have to trust me: If you ever have some time, check out Missouri Route 59.)

Got to Arkansas in the early afternoon and finally got to meet Kirk Demarais, who, it turns out, is as incredibly awesome and kind and fun and generous in person as he’s been online. And though he had no obligation to entertain me or anything, Kirk figured it would be fun to take a mini-road trip for the afternoon, so we zipped over to Eureka Springs – spotting, along the way, totally by chance and entirely fitting, the self-proclaimed World’s Largest Traveling Reptile Show in a parking lot. (Truth be told, things like that make me sad for the animals, so they never get my money, but the cheesy sideshow art on the trailers was too garish and bizarre and odd not to stop and gawk at.)

We wandered the three or four balconies of the supposedly haunted Crescent Hotel –

Crescent Hotel

Crescent view 2

– and walked around Eureka Springs for a little while, then went to check out the view of the place from across the valley, from the vantage point of the Christ of the Ozarks –

Christ of the Ozarks

The day passed in a non-stop conversation bouncing from nerdstuff to nostalgia to movies and science fiction and videogames and being dads and art and writing and books and road trips, and it was a total blast, and Kirk and his family are seriously great people for letting me crash at their place during my odyssey.

I got up and hit the road this morning about 6 a.m.

Today was quite the drive for changing scenery:

From an approaching storm over Oklahoma –

to the Texas panhandle –

Texas

to a blazing afternoon stopoff in Amarillo and a visit to the site of the former Air Force Base where my dad did his basic training back in 1968. It’s not a pretty place these days:

former Amarillo

And even though I wasn’t yet in the world when Dad was here and when mom and grandma drove down to visit him, I still wanted to see it, and I tried to imagine Dad coming down here on his own and being in this strange and isolated and expansive region so different from the parts of Ohio where he grew up.

From Amarillo, it was just a couple quick hours to Tucumcari, New Mexico, where I’m staying tonight, and I’ve got a couple good hours of the evening to explore, which I’m going to go do now, since tomorrow’s another hit-the-road-early day.

June 16, 2010 Posted by | Family history, geek, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pittsburgh Comicon Road Trip

Saturday’s road trip with Adam to the Pittsburgh Comicon made for a long day that left me both physically exhausted and mentally worn out from a kind of roller-coaster day.

I’ll get the low point out of the way first: I didn’t sell a single copy of Collect All 21, which is a first since I’ve started actively attending conventions and promoting the book, and this really bummed me out, especially since this was the biggest convention I’ve been a part of so far. I absolutely love doing readings and going to cons anyway, so I was really excited at JediCon WV last August when I met Christine from the Science Fiction Alliance of Pittsburgh and she invited me to give a presentation at this spring’s show. And as the date drew nearer and I saw the scope of Star Wars-related guests and the impressive slate of comic creators who’d be on hand, I just got even more psyched.

I also have to admit it was neat seeing my name in the program book and a description of the panel along with a logo of the book’s title. And I was glad to see Christine again and meet some people from the group who I’d only met online.

About a dozen people showed up for my reading – I spent a good 10 minutes before 1 p.m. talking Star Wars with a very nice couple in the front row – and that number was absolutely fine with me, seeing as how, through no one’s fault, I was scheduled at the same time as the Legends of the Marvel Heyday panel, meaning guys like Roy Thomas and Joe Sinnot were right next door. I made sure to thank everyone who came, and though things got off to a rough start when the video clips I had prepared wouldn’t play, I felt like I was hitting some of the right chords in the right places as I read different excerpts from the book and moved through the saga.

I gave away a copy of the book as a door prize afterward, and I was glad that the recipient was one of the audience members who had seemed to be enjoying the reading the most, judging from smiles and laughter and nods of recognition or shared experiences. That was the only copy of the book which left that room in hands other than mine, though.

After a short break, Adam and I sat on a panel (again, thanks to the Sci-Fi Pittsburgh folks!) where we talked about our thoughts on and experiences with self-publishing.

Don’t get me wrong: It was fantastic to be invited and to take part, and I remain very grateful for the opportunity. And I know that from a logical standpoint, my presentation didn’t reach nearly as many people as if I’d had a table, but failing through my reading to convince a single person to buy my book really did hit me hard.

The thing is: I still had an absolutely frakking great day. We got there around 10:30 a.m. and within about 20 minutesof our arrival, I met and chatted with Roy Thomas, whose Star Wars comics work absolutely enthralled me when I was little. He was incredibly polite and generous with his time, and when I mentioned I had been much more into Star Wars than comics, he launched into a few minutes about what it was like working on the original movie adaptation and then being among the first writers to work in what has since been labeled “expanded universe” territory.

Roy Thomas, Marvel Comics legend

Roy Thomas, original writer & editor of Marvel Star Wars.

Adam introduced me to Dave Wachter, who did the cover of Deus Ex Comica, and I bought a long-overdue convention preview edition of The Guns of Shadow Valleywhich, by the way, is a-freaking-mazing and wholly deserving of its 2010 Eisner Awards nomination. And Dave put this nice sketch on the back, too:

Go read The Guns of Shadow Valley.

Normally, I'd say his guns ain't for hire.

Walking past one of the tables, my 1980s video-gaming eye was caught by this piece –

I got all the patterns down, up until the ninth key.

Scott Derby's "Inky"

– and of course I had to stop, which is how I met Scott Derby. This is actually one of a three-piece series, and I had a blast talking to Scott about this sort of pop-culture stuff, and we got on the topic of original-era Star Wars because a) I was wearing my Kenner shirt, and b) he was sharing a table with Dave Perillo, whose retro-advertising-look pieces included this one –

Dave Perillo's Wretched Hive

Dave Perillo - "Mos Eisley Cantina"

– about which, naturally, I was also crazy. (He also had this Sgt. Pepper’s print, which, given Jenn’s reaction to the Star Wars art above, pretty much makes my next gift buy for her a no-brainer.)

Since I was still lugging around copies of my book after Adam and I did our panels, I went back to Dave and Scott’s table and we talked a bit more, and both of them were receptive to my books-for-signed-prints trade proposal, which was very much appreciated – they seemed exactly like the kind of readers who’ll enjoy it, and I sincerely hope they do. (Both of them were also familiar with Kirk Demarais‘ work from a couple Gallery 1988 shows, so it was cool to be able to share the book cover – and they picked up on one of my favorite bits: The slightly offset color register of the proof-of-purchase-inspired title logo.)

We paid a visit to Bryan J.L. Glass – yet another super-nice guy – whom Adam had gotten to know at the first Screaming Tiki Con. The three of us chatted for awhile and I bought a copy of his collaborated take on Quixote.

My only other purchase was a hardcover edition of Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, which I picked up because it was cheap, and I’ve heard good things about Joe Hill’s writing.

We left at about 5:30 or so, I think, and Adam had a craving for Red Robin, so we found one in the general direction we were headed and had dinner in Homestead, Pa. (Which I just learned was the home of the Grays, whom I know because my brother gave me a great book a few years back about Josh Gibson). The place was packed, but there were plenty of open seats in the bar, so we enjoyed a few burgers and then headed west again.

Driving through Pittsburgh and toward eastern Ohio, Adam and I got into this great debate over the use of 3-D in movies – unnecessary gimmick or the next logical evolution in cinema? – that lasted us awhile. It was one of those really fun, engrossing, being-adamant-but-not-an-asshole conversations with well-stated points and nicely-supported counterpoints and analogies and examples, and it carried us for at least the better part of an hour – and it ended up on a note about boobies. So, win.

We kept talking the whole way back about all sorts of stuff, and it really reminded me of our junior and senior years of high school, when we regularly would just get together on Sunday nights after dinner and just hang out and BS, and it was something Adam and I haven’t done in a long time. I mean, if we had planned something like this – you know, a “Hey, the wives are out of town, let’s grab some beer and shoot the shit,” it would have somehow had a different feel than this trip did. Or as Adam put it, when we’ve taken road trips to Bowling Green, we have had similar lengthy conversations, but those, by nature of the trip, have always come with an expectation of back-in-the-day talk.

By the time we were back home, the low points of the day seemed a long way behind me.

April 25, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Books, eighties, Fiction, Film, geek, science fiction, Travel, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Flash Fluoride LIVES!

Thanks to Kirk Demarais and his Secret Fun Blog for firing up some long-dormant synapses with this:

Seriously – If you had asked me if I remembered “The Toothbrush Family,” I would have said no. Even if you’d mentioned Hot Rod Harry and Susie Sponge and Flash Fluoride? Answer’s still no.

Two seconds into that video, though, and the triggers are pulled, and it all comes back.

Stuff like this fascinates me: Clearly I had the memory of this cartoon lodged in my brain cells somewhere – but if I’d never gotten to see this clip again, and I’d never accessed those memories, is that really “forgetting” the cartoon itself, or is that just losing the key to the garage, if you know what I mean? This makes me wonder how much other stuff I might still have tucked away that I just can’t quite get to without a little help.

November 3, 2009 Posted by | geek, Television | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Counting by summers.

CA21Bday

Technically, my lame manipulation of the classic Star Wars birthday poster – distributed back in 1978 – could be seen as overdue, since I announced the first release of “Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek” on July 2, 2008. Still, its Amazon and Target listings both put the official publication date as July 14, so I’m going with it. (Barnes & Noble, meanwhile, is listing a publication date of April of this year, going with the revised edition, so, Yay, Two Birthdays For CA21, I guess.)

At any rate, piles of sincere thanks to everybody over the past year who has read it, bought it, downloaded it, talked about it, linked to it, halfheartedly glanced at it, stopped by to ask me about it, or even just looked at the cover photos for a moment of nostalgia. Or to laugh at the dork in the brown corduroys and white socks playing with a Y-Wing.

Ten-thousand-credits-all-in-advance thanks again to friend & editor Adam Besenyodi, cover re-design master Kirk Demarais, and Down Under smart and hilarious foreword writer David Morgan-Mar. (Someday I hope to meet Kirk & David and thank them in person by buying them refreshing beverages of their choice, but until then, I hope these digital thanks across state and international boundaries are sufficient.) Thanks also to my buddy Dustin, who shared news of this spring’s revised edition through TheForce.net and Rebelscum.com.

The best thing of all has been hearing from people that the book gave them a chance to spend a little time revisiting a fun past, and reminded them about why so many of us are still attached to the Star Wars saga three decades after it was born.

July 14, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Books, eighties, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, Weblogs, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From action figures to X-ray specs

Kirk Demarais has done it again. As the artist responsible for the new look of “Collect All 21!“, he’s already got my gratitude and admiration in abundance, but now – now he goes and writes this on his Secret Fun Blog:

“…this book is highly entertaining and well written.And here’s the truly amazing thing about it— it’s full of all of your own memories. Really! I spent half the time reading, and the other half experiencing long-forgotten Star Wars flashbacks. It has sent pulses into my brain that are reawakening moments and stories that have been dormant for decades. And when you enjoy visiting the past as often as I do, that’s no small feat.”

This is an incredibly rewarding thing to hear, and Kirk is making it awfully difficult for me to thank him enough for his contribution and support of my book. That said, hopefully I can start by returning the favor somewhat:

If you picked up a comic book pretty much ever, then you were probably intrigued and mystified and enticed by those oddly vague ads for ultra-cheap stuff like “Life-Size Monsters!” and “Eight Billion Army Men in a Sturdy Footlocker” and pranks like Sneezing Powder and Hot Pepper Gum. I know I was. (Never enough to actually send away for any of it, of course – I mean, spending money was for Star Wars loot.)

Well, Kirk’s uncovered some of the mysteries for us:

Life of the Party - available at McPhee.com

Life of the Party - available at McPhee.com

Archie McPhee, purveyors of Great Piles o’Awesome like the Cold War Unicorns Play Set, now sells Kirk’s book “Life of the Party: A Visual History of the S.S. Adams Company, Makers of Pranks & Magic for 100 Years” and has lopped almost half the original cover price off this big 200-page hardcover pictorial history.

Kirk’s dedication to and love for these long-lost bits of pop culture oddity is apparent in his short film Flip,  on his blog and Secret Fun Spot, and I can’t wait to dig into this book.

And – almost as if I did send away for those X-Ray Specs when I was eight – I am already watching the mailbox in anticipation of my just-ordered copy’s arrival.


June 9, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Books, eighties, geek, science fiction, Weblogs, writing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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